t’s that time of year when Baltimoreans don their holiday best and head for the annual holiday office bash. But as Style discovered, some employees get rewarded handsomely for their year of labor while others are on the “naughty” list— or just employees of a boss who’s a bit more like Scrooge than Santa Claus. Check out our roundup of area office parties past and present to see how your company matches up. >>
Blake Goldsmith, owner of Extraordinary Events, dishes that the 300 or so employees of Edward St. John’s real estate company, St. John Properties Inc., will have the American Visionary Art Museum all to themselves this December for a ‘70s-themed party where guests get to play “The Newlywed Game” on a fully equipped reproduction set.
Ameritrade’s Columbia-based operation will be doing a Mardi Gras-themed event at a major downtown hotel— last year’s Ravens tailgate-themed party was so popular, the company decided to do something unusual once again. A jester will greet guests and hand out beads. Throughout the night there will be Cajun music interspersed with rock favorites provided by a DJ, jambalaya on the menu and, of course, a king cake for dessert complete with prizes.
When it comes to theme events, the University of Baltimore should get a prize. Each year the university relations department transforms the business school’s atrium into a fantasy world for the delight of the school’s 350 faculty and staff members. Last year the theme was “Winter Wonderland,” complete with banks of fake snow, shimmering confetti, strands of white lights twinkling from the ceiling and a hot chocolate bar. This year the theme is “Candyland,” and attendees can expect oversized lollipops, gumdrop trees and gingerbread people, in addition to a full meal provided by Classic Catering and candy-inspired desserts. According to university relations associate director Gigi Boam, her staff starts preparations for the event in October and devotes several days of hard work to it.
While the National Aquarium likes to keep mum about its holiday guests, Paula Katz, the director of catered events, will divulge that everyone from accounting firms to law firms will weave a little fish tale into the holiday season this year. Katz explains that the venue will host dinners and dancing with guests enjoying private dolphin shows and puffin feedings, private viewings of the animal exhibits and scavenger hunts throughout the buildings. Companies usually vie to book the Aquarium on the night of the annual Lighted Parade of Boats, which can be seen from the aquarium’s bridge.
Over at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the employees of First Annapolis, a Linthicum consulting firm, will be celebrating with a “holiday magic” theme. A magician and casino tables will provide entertainment and each guest will play with fake money— so no one will lose their holiday gift money.
When you run a company of mostly young professionals, you need to throw a party that rocks, according to Stacey Barich, corporate communications manager at Agora Publishing. She describes the company party— which hosts a whopping 500 guests— as a “fully catered, all-out, booze bash.” The company likes to stick close to its Mount Vernon neighborhood so the party will be held at the Engineers Club and will feature a performance by the Latin-jazz-R&B-soul band, the Swingin’ Swamis. Expect to see revelers overflowing into local joints like the Midtown Yacht Club as soon as the party wraps at 11 p.m.
Perhaps one of the more popular holiday parties— and attended by an estimated 3,500 guests— is the Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse corporate holiday gathering. This year the event for employees, politicians and a who’s who of company friends will be held at Belvedere Square. It will be an indoor/outdoor holiday hoopla with food and drink aplenty, catered by the Belvedere Square market and restaurant merchants. There will even be bonfires on the parking lots.
The Cordish Co. reports it will be hosting its annual holiday party at Towson’s VIN restaurant. The company, whose development division employs more than 500 executives nationwide, gathers in Baltimore once a year to reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and toast the upcoming new year. Reed Cordish divulged that the theme for this year’s party is fine wine and dining. The company is working with VIN’s chef, Christopher Paternotte, to create a menu of small plates, heavy passed hors d’oeuvres and specially paired exclusive wines for the night.
Chesapeake Medical Staffing, a Towson-based health care staffing agency, likes to match its holiday party to the company’s mission of helping others. Each year the company hosts a black-tie dinner and dancing event at the Gramercy Mansion in Green Spring Valley; the fee to attend is a donation to Health Care for the Homeless. (Donations are usually monetary, although there is also a tree under which hats, gloves, toiletries and other in-kind donations can be made.) According to one of the company’s principals, Terri Weller, the party sells out each year— the only limit on the fun is the fire code at the mansion and the noise ordinance that shuts down the party at 11:30 p.m. “It’s no boring cocktail party,” she says. “We do the conga through that mansion every year.”
Who doesn’t need a massage around the holidays? According to Diane Devaney at Devaney & Associates, an advertising and public relations firm, each of her 16 employees has earned it. “Spa Day,” now in its eighth year, is a signature holiday event so popular with employees it is discussed with new hires as one of their benefits. Employees— male and female— get the day off to spend at Spa in the Valley, enjoying services and eating and drinking. A dinner follows. “It’s as much about team building as it is about the spa treatments,” says Devaney.
Alas, the news stops for no party, so WBAL-TV hosts a luncheon with holiday music at its offices on TV Hill for all current (and retired) employees. Employees at WYPR-FM will celebrate with an informal cocktail party for staff and significant others at president and CEO Tony Brandon’s Ruxton home. While it isn’t anything flashy, Brandon reminds us, “We are ‘public radio.’”
An anonymous insider at the city State’s Attorney’s Office says this year will be like the last— dinner, drinks and a DJ at the War Memorial Building in Baltimore City, for which attendees pay their own way— 30 bucks a head! Hey, even though it’s the holidays, it’s still a public agency, right?
The keepers of the public’s health are getting a deserved celebration this year. Ralph Rizzo at R&R Events explains Sinai Hospital is hosting a “Winter in Las Vegas”-themed event open to every one of the several hundred employees at the hospital. Rizzo explains that guests are scheduled to attend the party in three separate shifts to accommodate everyone. Each group will enjoy a DJ and a buffet meal in the hospital auditorium, which will be decorated with enormous, 3-D dice hanging from the ceiling, oversized roulette wheels and playing cards all blanketed by a fine layer of artificial snow and punctuated with gleaming white palm trees.
For Bon Secours Health System, Rizzo is spearheading a “Black & White Hollywood”-themed event that will evoke the glamour of Tinseltown’s bygone era for some 800 guests. Attendees will enter the ballroom at Camden Yards via a red carpet lined with sky tracker lights a la a major movie premiere. Artistic lighting will simulate the appearance of paparazzi flash-bulbs as guests mingle among 12-foot-tall Oscar statues. The entire décor will be black, white and silver with Art Deco accents, although the guests (many of whom come directly from work) may be dressed in everything from scrubs to suits.
Of course, these aren’t the only guests who will be decking the halls of Camden Yards. Fittingly, the 100 front office staff members at the Orioles (each with a guest) enjoy their annual bash at the Camden Club on the seventh floor of the warehouse, where there will be food and music provided by a DJ.
Leave it to the Creative Alliance to turn the traditional holiday party on its ear. This year’s event is called the “Members’ Holiday Hoo-Hah,” wherein members are invited to the theater for a homey buffet supper. CA provides a turkey and the rest is potluck. Megan Hamilton, program director at Creative Alliance, explains there will be “long tables piled with food and lots of candles and plenty of children running about” while artistic director Jed Dodds performs on the musical saw. The event includes a “Tiny Tim Orphan Art Auction,” in which works of art left unclaimed after exhibitions will be auctioned off to benefit the Alliance. (Although the party is for members, the public can attend for a fee. The event is Dec. 12.)
At Rohrer Studio, an architecture and interior design firm in Mount Vernon, principal Dianne Rohrer has been throwing an annual holiday party called “Fireworks” for several years. Always held the night of the Monument Lighting in Mount Vernon Square (the firm’s offices are right around the corner), the party kicks in at the conclusion of the fireworks that cap off the lighting. The two-story office, housed in an old carriage house, hosts some 120 people— employees and their families, friends, clients, associates and colleagues— with open bars and a buffet dinner catered by Sascha’s. “The ‘kid element’ is what makes our party different,” says Rohrer. “It’s fun that the kids can come and see the fireworks, and that everyone gets to meet and mingle with people’s families.”
Goucher College president Sanford J. Ungar hosts an open-house reception for all employees that encourages everyone from the housekeepers to the provost to celebrate the holidays together. Kristen Keener, media relations director at the college, reports that her department will host an independently funded celebration in similar fashion to last year— with duckpin bowling, pizza, beer and a gag gift swap.
While some employees seem to get all the flash, others play it cool during the holiday season. As befits the strait-laced world of high finance, the folks at T. Rowe Price will celebrate the holiday season … by doing nothing at all. It’s not that the credit crunch put the kibosh on Christmas, though. According to T. Rowe’s marketing staff, while some departments may make some sort of merriment on their own, the company prefers to do its major employee fete in the summer, with an annual picnic for associates and their families.
At Greater Baltimore Medical Center, media relations manager Michael Schwartzberg says the hospital marks the season not with a party, but by presenting all its employees and volunteers with a free turkey. A tractor-trailer filled with frozen poultry doles out the birds— this year there will be 3,750 cluckers— and some staff even show up with carts to haul turkeys for their whole department. (Leftovers get donated to the Maryland Food Bank.)
And what of the hard-working professionals who put these events together? Is there any holiday reprieve for the event planners? Last year P.W. Feats celebrated the season with its employees and clients in its offices, housed in two rowhouses in Mount Vernon, on the night of the Monument Lighting. As it was also the company’s 21st anniversary in business, director of communications Dana Cooksey says the creative team went all out, decorating each room in a different décor based on a “shoe” theme. (Feats and feet— get it?)
The main gallery was a performance space for Taylor McFerrin (son of Bobby), who played while a video loop of the company’s real event “feats” rolled on video screens interspersed with shoe illustrations commissioned for the event. There was a holiday room where shoes were used to decorate trees and wreathes, a break room featuring an ‘80s bar with bartenders in ‘80s attire, vinyl records suspended from the ceilings and Chuck Taylors, Candies and jelly shoes used as décor, and a room with a giant, stiletto ice luge.
The CEO’s office harkened back to the company’s beginnings as a magic shop, with the room decorated in red velvet and gold. A re-creation of the Zoltar machine (from the movie “Big”) featured an actor who came alive to provide shoe-inspired fortunes and a roaming magician performed tricks. There were special rooms for children to decorate little elf shoes and another for teenagers with music and games. Cooksey estimates that the party entertained some 300 guests throughout the night.
As for this year’s party, well, Cooksey would hate to spill the beans and end up on Santa’s naughty list.